Commentary: Todd Rokita, poet of politics

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – That Todd Rokita – he’s just a rhyming fool.

Rokita, the Republican congressman who represents an asymmetrical slice of northern and central Indiana, unveiled the slogan he plans to use to capture the GOP nomination in next year’s U.S. Senate race and then unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana. The slogan’s a beauty, enough to make Shelley or Keats or even Dr. Suess green with envy.

John Krull, publisher,

Defeat the Elite.

Oh, the poetry of it.

The man just has a way with words.

Cynics did not respond with grace to the sublime nature of Rokita’s slogan. Some snickered. A few snorted. Many more surrendered to belly laughs.

They argued, uncharitably, that any man who has been on the public payroll for 15 years – more than half his adult life – doesn’t qualify as a working-class hero.

But they don’t know the rough road Rokita has traveled to become a champion of the proletariat.

For instance, he attended Wabash College as an undergraduate, where the annual tuition and fees are about $50,000 per year – or roughly the median yearly income for an Indiana family. Things were so tough for Todd at Wabash that he occasionally had to buy second-hand textbooks. Sometimes, he even was denied a caddy and had to carry his own golf clubs.




From there, Rokita went to law school and then became an attorney. His hands quickly became gnarled and calloused from typing on unresponsive keyboards and wrestling with leather briefcases that no one had bothered to polish for him.




Those experiences, though, tempered Todd Rokita and prepared him to enter public service. He became Indiana secretary of state in 2002, when he was a battle-weary and wizened 32 years old. Since then, he has run for public office eight times – including three times in 2016 alone, when he started out running for his congressional seat, “ended” that campaign to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination that opened when Mike Pence became Donald Trump’s running mate and then scurried back to the congressional race when current Gov. Eric Holcomb claimed the bid.

Those experiences didn’t deter Rokita, because his time at the public trough – er, in public service – further toughened him.

Lord knows how many paper cuts that poor man suffered opening the envelopes stuffed with big checks from heavyweight campaign contributors. He collected cash from corporate donors in the real estate and healthcare industries and from special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association. Just in this election cycle alone, he’s pocketed nearly $359,000 – at last reporting – from political action committees.

It would be wrong, though, to think that all his support comes from fat cats and, uh, elites.

No, he’s also scooped up a little under $17,000 in small, individual contributions – a staggering 1.23 percent of his fundraising total.

All told, Rokita’s war chest amounts to more than $2 million. It’s a lot of work carting that much cash to the bank.

And then there’s the challenge of figuring out how to spend that much money. It’s difficult to decide whether one should pay for a negative ad assaulting an opponent’s character and status as a human being or instead buy a spot that reduces a complicated public question to a misleading caricature.

Such work isn’t for the weak-kneed – or anyone overburdened by qualms of conscience.

But it wasn’t because Todd Rokita has traveled such a hard road to get where he is that he settled on that gem of a campaign slogan, “Defeat the Elite.”

No, he’s too modest to call attention to his struggles or demand public attention. The warnings that the most dangerous places to be in Washington are between Todd Rokita and a live TV camera or an open microphone are just the jealous mutterings of mean-spirited wags.

No, Rokita settled on “Defeat the Elite” because he loves rhymes.

It was a tough choice.

The runner-up slogan was almost as good:

“Make democracy hypocrisy.”

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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One Response to Commentary: Todd Rokita, poet of politics

  1. Deborah Ellsworth

    Is Wabash College still single gender – male only? Nice.